The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase

Studio Youth Theatre     Studio Theatre, Salisbury Philip & Julie McStraw      16 February 2023

The Studio Theatre, Salisbury, has an impressive history spanning over 70 years and currently owns and occupies a brilliant purpose built modern 92 seat theatre in Ashley Road.  It is a fantastic venue, enabling the delivery of good amateur dramatic productions, as demonstrated by the latest offering, performed by the Studio Youth Theatre, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.  The Studio Youth Theatre draws its membership from young people between 12 and 17 years of age who want to act or become involved in theatre, and it has a series of exciting events lined up for 2023.

This is a stage adaptation of Joan Aitken’s classic tale by local Playwright and Theatre Director, Russ Tunney, which has been performed nationwide on many occasions with notable success. The novel itself was originally published in 1962 and was the first of the Wolves Chronicles – a series of books set in a fictional bleak and snowy alternative England during the reign of King James the Third in 1834, where a large number of wolves have migrated from the frozen wilds of Eastern Europe and Russia into England via the newly opened Channel Tunnel to terrorise people living in rural areas. Two young cousins and kindred spirits, Bonnie and Sylvia Green, are brought together by family misfortune under the care of a cruel and wicked Governess, Letitia Slighcarp who, aided by the mysterious Mr. Grimshaw, plots to dispossess the absent Sir and Lady Willoughby of the Willoughby Chase estate and do away with the girls. However, the resolute girls and their friend Simon, a goose-boy, bravely battle for survival against Slighcarp and Grimshaw, and the menacing hungry wolves.   Definitely on the surface, a dark and ominous story line with sinister undertones. However, at the core of this surreal and incredulous tale can be found the best side of human nature, and the audience is uplifted with generous sprinklings of humour and fun, and; as to be expected, satisfying outcomes for all of the protagonists – in fact a treat for everyone to enjoy!

The introduction to the play in the accompanying programme mentions that time has been short to rehearse in the auditorium and this is evident at times, but does this really matter? No not at all because the storyline continuity and momentum are maintained throughout the performance, and the combination of melodrama and comedy flows to good effect. Moreover, the talented ensemble cast approach their roles with great enthusiasm and everyone delivers performances that are well received by the appreciative audience. The cast comprises 6 principal and 8 lesser characters, with 9 more players in the Chorus (some of whom double up with the other parts). All ensemble productions rely on the contribution of every player and it never seems right to pick out individuals for particular praise. Even so it must be said that Liv Wordley is outstanding with a mature and convincing performance as swashbuckling Bonnie Green.  Joel White is excellent too, with his portrayal of the unpleasant and intimidating Mr Grimshaw, and in his delivery of some of the best funny lines.  Many others also deserve a mention, but suffice to say everyone plays their part well and can be proud of their performance.

The stage set for this production is simple, but versatile and highly effective. On entering the auditorium, the audience is presented with a misty winter landscape, complete with an eerie soundscape and howling of wolves. A chilling introduction that immediately stirs one’s imagination. The first-rate sound effects, (the responsibility of Sophie Townsend and Peter McAuley) help to create the perfect atmosphere for the unfolding story. The Wardrobe team, (the responsibility of Sally Marshall), have produced some super period costumes with original modern steam punk elements.

All in all, an enjoyable evening’s entertainment and undoubtedly, on this showing, clear evidence of a bright future for the Studio Youth Theatre. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase runs until 18 February.